AROUND 700 bus workers in Exeter and south and east Devon struck for two days last week. This followed a 93 percent vote in favour of industrial action. Strikers, members of the RMT union, want £6.50 per hour minimum and one hour off the 41-hour week. Stagecoach bosses are offering £7 per hour but that's tied to the loss of paid meal breaks, reduction of holiday entitlement from five to four weeks per year and unpaid work time for daily vehicle checks, walking time from the depot and cashing up.
One striker said, 'This has been brewing for some time. The drivers and control room staff have had enough. Our pay claim is not unreasonable considering Stagecoach make huge profits.' On the first strike day four local drivers scabbed, but by the second day that was down to only two. There were fewer buses running on the second strike day than the first. The picket lines have been really active and militant with about 100 pickets at the bus station in Exeter.
Pete Edwards, RMT Exeter rep and Labour city councillor, said, 'This is the first bus strike in Exeter for 30 years. For most of the people here it is the first time they have ever been on strike and yet there is a great sense of collectivity.'
Picket lines have been joined by firefighters (complete with fire engine), postal workers and health workers. It was tremendous to see all the years of isolation and sectionalism in the city roll away as the visitors gathered behind the RMT banner to be photographed, and then took handfuls of RMT badges to distribute at their own workplaces.
Other bus company drivers are not crossing picket lines. One management scab bus was found by a safety inspector to be unroadworthy, and strangely he hasn't been out driving again!
Scabs have been involved in a series of incidents - hitting a bridge and several cars - and two pickets were injured at Paignton bus station when a scab manager drove through picket lines.
Lynda Quick, the RMT No 2 branch secretary, told us, 'We do not wish to inconvenience the public but Stagecoach have left us no choice. Even so, the majority of the public supports us. 'Today, a pensioner came to the picket line and donated £10 to our strike fund. If anyone is using the public in this dispute it's Stagecoach. Stagecoach management has stopped all overtime on non-strike days. This not only reduces the earnings of the drivers but also means there are not enough buses in service.'
After an early attempt to attack the strike the local paper has been forced to admit that public support has been terrific. One article reported that a group of elderly people were walking from Pinhoe to Sainsbury's in Whipton and a driver stopped his bus to offer them a free lift, because the strike was on.
They turned around and said, 'We don't want a lift from you - you're a scab and we'd rather walk.' Letters in the local paper are overwhelmingly supportive of the action.
Don't back down on this one drivers - be more stubborn than they are! You'll win. People are with you.' That's typical of the tone of the letters. Two more strike days were due this week and then three next week.
A STRIKE by 350 drivers shut buses in Portsmouth, Fareham and Gosport on Friday of last week. The services are run by the giant First Group company. Members of the TGWU union are striking against a 23 pence an hour pay rise and were due to strike again for a day this week unless the offer is improved.
At present the drivers get between £5.84 and £6.74 an hour. Saturday's strike was rock solid. Engineers who had already settled their pay rise refused to cross picket lines. One picket at Hilsea depot spoke enthusiastically of Tony Woodley's election as leader of the TGWU and of the RMT's decision to allow support of non Labour Party candidates.